Preservation and Placemaking


The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Project for Public Spaces (PPS) announced this week that Tupelo, Mississippi, has been selected as the pilot site for a demonstration project that will tap into the power of Placemaking to revitalize this National Main Street community.

The project will engage a wide range of Tupelo stakeholders, community members, and the Mississippi Department of Transportation to invigorate the city's Main Street corridor, a state highway that links downtown to the birthplace of Elvis Presley and other public spaces and local attractions. The project is designed to produce an integrated transportation plan that will put streets to work for the community, supporting destinations, residents, and visitors.

To celebrate its Rock & Roll heritage as the birthplace of Elvis Presley, Tupelo holds an annual Elvis Festival every summer. This year, Tupelo crowned Kevin Mills as its Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist during the two-day event.

“Creating a sense of place is critical to not only keep a community alive, but thriving,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “We look forward to working with Project for Public Spaces and the community of Tupelo to create a unique, walkable environment for residents and visitors.”

“This project was the missing piece we needed to make our Main Street Master Plan move from good to spectacular,” said Debbie Brandenberg, director of the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association. “It's a huge opportunity for us to broaden our thinking about how we plan our infrastructure and build for the future. It's not about making radical changes from the way we have done things, but learning to embrace new ways to deal with needs and issues while keeping the future in mind.”

The Tupelo Main Street Master Plan, which was unveiled last year, is geared toward making downtown more of a destination. To attract pedestrians and cyclists, the plan calls for sidewalk beautification; traffic light synchronization; pedestrian amenities; a downtown park; and turning a section of Main Street into three lanes that will include bike lanes, auto lanes, and on-street parallel parking.

Tupelo was selected through a competitive process in which each applicant community, in partnership with its state Main Street organization, outlined transportation proposals that could spur economic revitalization and community development. Working collaboratively with Mississippi's Department of Transportation (DOT), the demonstration project, executed by the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association and the Mississippi Main Street Association, will demonstrate new opportunities to engage state DOTs and local Main Street programs.

“We are pleased that Project for Public Spaces and the National Trust for Historic Preservation selected Tupelo – and Mississippi – as the site for the Placemaking project,” said Bob Wilson, executive director of the Mississippi Main Street Association. “With the number of tourist attractions along Tupelo's downtown corridor, the principles of Placemaking will help connect these historic and cultural landmarks and make downtown Tupelo an even more appealing place.”

The joint Placemaking and Main Street demonstration project will focus on a four-block section of Tupelo's downtown to determine how traffic flow can be enhanced to boost downtown's strengths, increase its appeal, and create a stronger link to Elvis's birthplace.

As part of the program, a team led by National Trust Main Street Center (NTMSC) and PPS staff will conduct a two-day Placemaking workshop, which will focus on a four-block section of downtown that has seen increased truck traffic, higher auto speeds, and safety concerns about pedestrians using this part of the district. The goal is to determine how Main Street traffic flow can be enhanced to boost downtown's strengths and attractiveness and create a stronger link to Elvis Presley's birthplace and museum.

“The key is to come up with incentives for people to walk around and enjoy the area,” said NTMSC Assistant Director Lauren Adkins.

To spread the lessons learned in Tupelo to other communities, PPS and Mississippi Main Street will host a Placemaking training program for the managers of its 49 programs across the state. The Mississippi Main Street Association will also receive a one-day workshop open to all of its  members.

The demonstration project is the latest effort in a new partnership between the National Trust and PPS, aimed at enriching towns and cities across the nation through the power of Placemaking. This collaboration unites two powerful community development strategies – the National Trust's Main Street Four-Point Approach®, a proven tool and foundation for revitalizing commercial and neighborhood districts, and Project for Public Spaces' Placemaking, a process that fosters the creation of vital public destinations by promoting collaborative community involvement. Creating Main Streets that are pedestrian-friendly with balanced transportation options is a particular focus of the partnership and a major component of the Tupelo project.

“We are excited about the possibility to link Placemaking and Preservation in a dynamic community like Tupelo, which is so committed to making things happen,” said Fred Kent, president of Project for Public Spaces. “Their success can serve as a model for Mississippi, the region, and … the rest of the country.”